A Colonoscopy is the preferred diagnostic procedure for colorectal cancer. Apart from detecting any cancerous growth in the colon and rectum, a colonoscopy procedure is also employed for:
- Detecting polyps in the bowel
- Finding out the source of blood present in stools of certain individuals
- Finding out the cause of unexplained pain in the lower abdomen which has been persisting for some time despite taking regular painkillers.
- Finding out the reason behind unexplained bouts of diarrhea or constipation
- Diagnosing inflammatory bowel diseases like ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.
People above the age of 50 are advised to go for regular colonoscopy screening in order to catch any cancerous growth at an early stage. People who are at a high risk of developing colorectal cancer are supposed to undergo the procedure more frequently.
It is natural for a person to get nervous when his doctor tells him that he may have to undergo a colonoscopy. Let us discuss the various aspects of the procedure in order to allay the fears of a layman.
Preparation for a Colonoscopy Procedure
Preparation of the gut is the single most important step for a colposcopy. The success of the test is largely dependent on how well the gut has been prepared. The doctor generally asks the patient to stop taking all solid foods at least one to two days prior to the procedure. Only liquid food like tea, coffee, water, juices and clear broths are recommended. The patient is also asked to avoid any red or purple colored fluids like grape juice which may interfere with the results.
Patients are supposed to take laxative tablets or solution, as recommended by the physician, on the eve of the procedure in order to empty the colon for the colonoscopy screening. The patient may have to go the washroom frequently because of this. Consume adequate amounts of fluid lest you become dehydrated because of loss of body fluids due to the laxative.
The patient is supposed to completely fast for at least six to eight hours before the colonoscopy. The doctor usually gives an enema just before the procedure to make the gut absolutely clear.
What Happens During a Colonoscopy Procedure?
The patient is sedated and administered a pain-killer before the start of the procedure and is then made to lie down on his side with his knees pulled up to his belly. The doctor lubricates the anal opening and then introduces the colonoscope into the anus. It is a flexible tube which varies in length from 122 cm to 183 cm. A video camera is attached to its distal end, which helps in taking photos/making video of the colon. The colonoscope is gradually moved up the colon.
While moving the colonoscope in and out of the colon, the doctor is able to visualize the complete length of the bowel. He may introduce tiny forceps and swabs through the colonoscope in order to take biopsies from suspicious looking areas. The patient generally does not feel any pain while the biopsies are taken because of the effect of the sedative and pain-killer given prior to the procedure.
It is normal for the patient to pass some gas while the colonoscope is being moved inside the bowel and he should not get embarrassed by this. In fact, passing gas may provide relief from the abdominal cramps that some patients may develop during the colonoscopy procedure.
The procedure generally takes 30 to 45 minutes to complete. However, a lot depends on what the physician finds inside the gut. In case a suspicious growth is present, the colonoscopy procedure may be prolonged because of the time taken in collecting tissue samples.
What Happens after the Colonoscopy Procedure?
Once the colonoscopy screening is complete, the patient is kept under observation for one to two hours. He is allowed to go home after that. However, the patient may be too groggy to drive home on his own. He is allowed to eat proper meal after the effect of sedative has worn off. The patient is also advised to consume a lot of liquids to compensate for the fluid loss during the preparation of the colon for the colonoscopy procedure.
In case a polyp has been excised or tissue samples have been taken during the procedure, the patient may notice some blood in the stools for a few days. He may also complain of some pain in the abdomen, though the doctors usually prescribe pain-killers in such instances.
When to expect the result of the procedure?
The doctor generally tells the results of colonoscopy screening immediately after the procedure has been completed. However, the biopsy results may take a few days to arrive. The doctor describes the colonoscopy procedure as normal when he finds that the lining of the bowel is pink and smooth without any growths, any signs of inflammation, or any evidence of bleeding. An abnormal result of colonoscopy may be due to visualization of internal haemorrhoids, polyps or cancerous growth, presence of diverticulosis, or signs of inflammation.
It is important not to get intimidated by colonoscopy. One must understand that colonoscopy procedure is a routine procedure which helps in early diagnosis and treatment of conditions affecting the colon.